Economists brushed off a decline in new residential construction starts last month and instead looked at an increase in permits issued for houses and apartment buildings as a positive indicator that the real estate market is on the mend.
Housing starts fell 1.1% from the prior month to hit a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 698,000, the Commerce Department reported. That was a 34.7% surge from February last year.
Starts were down 5.9% from the prior month in the West and 12.3% in the Northeast. They were up 1.5% in the South and 3.0% in the Midwest.
Building permits told a different story, up 5.1% above the revised January rate and 34.3% above February last year. Economists looked at the increase in permits as a sign that the economy was improving.